Nick Kyrgios continued his emotional progression in New York in an off-Broadway setting at Flushing Meadows on Friday night. While 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams was sent into retirement by fellow Australian Ajla Tomljanovic, Kyrgios beat JJ Wolf 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 in 1h 55m at Louis Armstrong Stadium near.
In a normal US Open, a Friday night outing on Armstrong would hardly be a sideshow, such is the electric vibe that can be felt on a ground that is grand in itself. Kyrgios is the best supporting actor to start the US Open and the Wimbledon runner-up has never been seriously challenged by Wolf, a hard-working wildcard entry.
But with American outsider Wolf giving it his all, the mood was particularly lively. “Amazing. It was a really tough game for me. I know JJ is a hometown favorite so I really had to be on my toes today,” Kyrgios said.
Williams’ impending retirement, confirmed by his valiant three-set loss to Tomljanovic, created record crowds at Flushing Meadows and cast a giant shadow over everything else as well. It was no different on Friday at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, with a record daily attendance of 72,039 spectators heading to outside Queens to bid farewell to a legend.
Kyrgios said he was fully aware of the defining moment in tennis unfolding nearby as he took control of the third round match against Wolf. “It’s a special moment,” Kyrgios said. “I think me and JJ watched the screen. She had a career that I don’t think anyone else can emulate.
But Kyrgios’ time as second fiddle in New York will come to an end on Sunday after setting up a clash with defending champion and world number 1 Daniil Medvedev. The Australian has won three of their four outings, including at the recent Montreal Masters, although Medvedev beat him in four sets at the Australian Open in January.
Kyrgios’ triumph didn’t come in the biggest game of the night. But it provided further evidence of Canberran’s maturity, with the 23rd seed remaining focused throughout to reach the last 16 for the first time in New York.
Some of his shooting games were stunning, as was his side game with the crowd. From a stationary moonwalk after a brilliant backhand shot in the third set to curling his arm in over-the-top celebration after a lob, he looked like he didn’t want to be anywhere but on a tennis court.
Kyrgios and Wolf entered the field looking like they could easily have been pulled straight from a promotional photo shoot for a soft rock band. The Aussie wore a shimmering necklace to accessorize his sculpted facial hair and basketball outfit while Wolf wore a large silver crucifix hanging from a chain outside his white tank top.
But the leader of this group was clearly Kyrgios, who ultimately had far too many weapons for his rival to face.
The seven-time ATP Tour title winner made his opening shot in Game 5 of the game and the point he grabbed the break with was perfectly executed. A deliberately short cut return drew Wolf forward, leaving him vulnerable to the forehand lob the main contender flew over his head.
Kyrgios was celebrating the serve break before the lob landed, executing a big wave of his right arm before wagging a finger in delight as he danced in his courtside chair.
His return of serve is a skill that has greatly improved and a reason why he is posting consistently strong results in 2022, which includes a recent title run in Washington.
The 27-year-old has one of the best serves tennis has ever seen. He ranks highly in all facets of an ATP Tour database, both this season but also over the past three decades.
The Aussie has always trailed in return stats. His overall rating is still low, with Kyrgios ranked 63rd out of 75 players tracked over the past 12 months. But he is now regularly breaking opponents, with Kyrgios winning five of 11 offers against Wolf. He sits this year in the top 20 for converting break points.
Kyrgios said he was keen to focus on improving his performance, aware of the benefits that could come with it.
“I definitely worked on it every practice session,” he said. “Obviously, the statistics don’t lie. Numbers never lie. So I’m really happy with that.
Earlier, Australia’s top-ranked man Alex de Minaur was beaten by 12th seed Pablo Carreno-Busta 6-1 6-1 3-6 7-6(5).
After being outplayed early in the third-round match by recent Masters champion Montreal, de Minaur showed great fighting spirit to make the match a real contest. But a flukey lob hit by the Spaniard between his legs on match point denied Minaur.
The Aussie was initially furious at his misfortune and threw his racket away in anguish, but then lamented that he couldn’t make an impact early in the game.
Nick Kyrgios side show continues with straight-set loss to JJ Wolf